Game Grades: Penn State vs Michigan State
While the fourth quarter will affect the overall grade, the Penn State offense did succeed in running the ball on several occasions, especially with running back Miles Sanders, who scampered 78 yards to set up a K.J. Hamler TD pass from Trace McSorley. Aside from his two long runs, Sanders was kept in check, as was McSorley, who rushed for only 37 yards on 13 carries. Lacking the running lanes that were open two weeks ago against Ohio State, McSorley struggled to create plays with his legs, instead electing to spread the ball around to receivers Hamler and Mac Hippenhammer, as well as tight end Pat Freiermuth. While the Nittany Lions were able to take a 14-7 lead going into the half, the inability to score more than three points in the second half led to their downfall. Three straight running plays failed to yield a first down in a key late fourth-quarter drive, which would give the ball back to Michigan State for its game-winning final drive.
Even with the touchdown on Michigan State’s final play by wide receiver Felton Davis, Penn State’s defensive performance was rather solid. Michigan State’s first touchdown came via an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by defensive tackle C.J. Thorpe, immediately after Penn State had appeared to stop the Spartans on three straight rushing attempts. Nonetheless, it was series of missed opportunities by the Nittany Lions’ defense that would lead to their downfall, as cornerback Amani Oruwariye had a couple of interception opportunities, as well as safety Garrett Taylor, although Taylor did make a huge defensive play to intercept a Brian Lewerke pass and return it 37 yards. Ultimately, the Penn State defense proved to be too thin, as it was unable to sustain a pass rush and maintain coverage at the end of the 4th quarter. This unit continues to show massive improvement, as made evident in the Ohio State game, but it is far from perfect, as it continues to demonstrate youth all around.
Special Teams: B-
A missed field goal by freshman kicker Jake Pinegar would hurt the Nittany Lions as the game progressed, but Pinegar bounced back to nail a 20-yard field goal later. Punter Blake Gillikin impressed, averaging 45.5 yards on eight punts in the contest, while freshman kicker Rafael Checa continued his solid work on kickoffs, allowing only one kick to be returned. Wide receivers DeAndre Thompkins and K.J. Hamler failed to produce the spark plug moments of previous games, yet they were still solid in fielding all kicks. An average game in total by the special teams, with no real mistakes other than Pinegar’s missed kick.
Coach James Franklin had a definitive game plan going into the contest, looking to establish a rushing attack and force Michigan State into obvious passing situations. He succeeded in as much in the first half, but coach Mark Dantonio appeared to adjust, clogging up running lanes and setting up more quick throw opportunities for quarterback Brian Lewerke. Franklin stuck to his guns, insisting on feeding Sanders and McSorley since his rushing attack had gotten him a 14-7 lead at the half. Nonetheless, Michigan State’s game-winning drive culminated with a touchdown pass to Felton Davis III, in a situation in which cornerback Amani Oruwariye faced the task of single man-to-man coverage. Franklin and his staff remained committed to their plan of making Michigan State beat them rather than have the Nittany Lions make aggressive mistakes. Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, this strategy would not play to their favor, ultimately making the Michigan State Spartans victorious.
Andrew Destin is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.